District Working to Ensure Accurate Enrollment Projections

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The South Orange-Maplewood School District has made adjustments to more accurately predict kindergarten enrollment, reported the district’s Business Administrator Cheryl Schneider at the December 2014 Board of Education meeting.

Schneider noted that enrollment projections for the 2014-2015 school year were quite accurate overall. She reported that the demographer had predicted an enrollment of 6,863 students for 2014-15, and the actual number was 6,865 as of October 15.

Schneider noted that accurate numbers from the demographer were important for budget development, capital planning, and other planning in the district.

Although the demographer was able to project enrollment within 0.03% for 2014/15 overall, Schneider noted that “when you get down to … grade levels … it’s much more difficult” because a difference of just a few students can make a much larger impact percentage-wise.

Schneider said that the projection for elementary school enrollment for 2014/15 was 3,235 with the actual being 3,253 — just 0.5% above the projection. Middle school enrollment was a little below projections. High school enrollment was just above projections. (Village Green will post the charts when Schneider makes them available.)

Schneider noted that there was more fluctuation with pre-K and special education projections because the numbers are “just so much smaller,” and that a 2-5 student difference translates into a very large percentage change.

“We’ve reported in the past that the big numbers we’ve been seeing changes with … is at the kindergarten level,” said Schneider. She said that for the previous two school years the district was seeing higher enrollment than the demographer had been projecting, but that the demographer has made adjustments going forward.

Board of Education President Beth Daugherty asked Schneider to talk about how the district was working with the demographer to ensure that the projections were accurate.

Schneider explained that the projections were based on trend analysis and that kindergarten “is the hardest because the students aren’t here yet. Whereas once they are here we have a pretty good trend analysis…. Kindergarten again in an unknown.”

Schneider said that, in the past, the district and the demographer had based kindergarten projections on 98% of the local birth rate for 5 years prior. However, she said, for the past two years the district had seen the number coming in at over 100%. “It’s people moving into the district,” said Schneider. She noted that the district was seeing high enrollments over the summer “and in fact it’s people who have just bought houses.” To adjust and make more accurate projections, Schneider said she had a discussion with the demographer: “Let’s just assume that what’s happened over the past two years is something that we should be reflecting going forward.” Schneider noted that it’s easier to plan with a higher estimate.

Overall, said Schneider, the district is now “very comfortable with our projections.”

Going forward, Schneider said that the district was not expecting kindergarten enrollment to drop off as quickly as initially expected but that the number was expected to eventually drop over time.

Elementary enrollment — which is at 3,253 this year — is projected to decrease 8.5% over the next five years to 2,978 by 2019-2020. Schneider noted that this follows on a 21% elementary school enrollment increase of the past 7 years.

Middle school enrollment is at 1,587 this year. Schneider said, “That’s going to stay pretty flat…. We just had a 19% increase over the last 7 years.” The district is looking at a projected 4.7% middle school enrollment increase to 1,662 students by 2019-20.

“On the other hand,” said Schneider, “enrollment will continue to increase at the high school level.” Columbia High School’s 1,898 enrollment for the current year is a 3.6% increase from last year. “We are looking for a 12% increase over the next 5 years,” said Schneider to about 2,100 students in 2019-2020. She noted that the prior year increases at the lower levels — elementary and middle school — would continue to make their way through the high school. Schneider said that these projections will inform discussions about possible needed capital improvements — including increased need for building space — at the high school.


Read more about Schneider’s enrollment report in her budget analyses memo here.

Read our previous story on elementary enrollment trends and possible re-districting involving Seth Boyden School here

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